Why the Most Profound Spiritual Experiences Are Often the Most Ordinary

Why the Most Profound Spiritual Experiences Are Often the Most Ordinary

As Latter-day Saints, we are taught to search out truth from the best books. In addition to the Book of Mormon and the Bible, I, like many people, sought spiritual enlightenment from the exotic writings and teaching of Eastern philosophy, TheTao te Ching, Zen Buddhist Koans, etc. Those ancient Eastern books were new, exotic and certain excitement came from pondering them. Perhaps one could say that I found enlightenment. However, what I didn’t find is change. I wanted a spiritual experience, a moment of perfect clarity. What I found instead was my same ordinary life; clearer vision didn’t change that view.

The thought that I might have to leave my family and sit under a tree for days of complete meditation in order to obtain my enlightenment did cross my mind. Fortunately, I did not follow through on that inclination. My family was too important to me. However, I did indulge the thought that I had failed my spiritual journey here in life. As a Latter-day Saint, I do not believe in reincarnation, but I did believe at that time that there was some level of spirituality that I was missing at church.

The True Journey

The world would have us believe that nothing is to be found in the ordinary. That true spirituality must be sought in faraway places and exotic locations. That we must live monastic lifestyles in order to reach some semblance of spirituality. What a load of lies. Or as the more eloquent Emerson put it, “we take ruins, to ruins.”  The search for enlightenment in exotic places is a fool’s errand. In the end, we cannot escape taking the fool with us, wherever we go.

There is nothing more spiritual than a young mother carrying around a crying child with a runny nose in a frantic search for a lost shoe, hoping that she can somehow make it to church before the sacrament song ends. That scene, and ones like it that play out on a daily basis, are greater than any Zen parable. This is where true enlightenment is found, in the ordinary, not in the silence of some faraway place.

 Lehi speaking to his son, born in the wilderness, said, “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad” (2 Nephi 2:11). Our little everyday frustrations and interactions with other people are far greater teachers than any hermit on a mountain top.

This is not to discount Eastern philosophy; it holds many great truths. What I discount is the Westernized view often found in popular culture.  The problem is not a matter of location. Eat, Pray, Love, could have just as easily ate, prayed, and loved here. What people who desire a spiritual journey often miss is that they’ve been on a spiritual journey all along. It is in the ordinary, sometimes mundane paces we go through each day that are opportunities for enlightenment presented to us by a loving Heavenly Father. Our journey is found each day in the little moments; we simply have to recognize it.

Spiritual Materialism

The Western world has this idea that a great moment of enlightened clarity is all they need to be spiritual. But as most realize after having such experiences, they are back where they began in the ordinary world with the same ordinary thoughts. Hopefully, with at least a little less clutter.  As one Zen Buddhist put it, “Tall trees, big mountain, fetch water, chop wood. After enlightenment, tall trees, big mountain, fetch water, chop wood.”

Most who set out on this course to seek out a spiritual experience find one is not enough; they need more, and each subsequent experience needs to be greater than the next. This was termed by a monk Chögyam Trungpa as “spiritual materialism” and can be very dangerous. Spiritual experiences in themselves are good and are needed to churn up the flow of ordinary life so as not to go stagnant. However, the danger is to think that those experiences are the spiritual journey and not the rest of the ordinary things we experience in life.

Same Old Truths, Different Packaging

What we need in this materialistic world is not exotic places or strange new philosophies, which if you brush off all the embellishments that the West puts on them, they are still the same old truths of love your neighbor and worship God. What we need is to pause and take time to recognize the gift this ordinary life is and that the sage we have been seeking on the distant mountain is really the loving Savior, Jesus Christ, who walks beside us every step of the way.

“I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom" (2 Nephi 28:30). This is the admonition of the Lord to us all.

So eat your food, whatever and wherever it may be, say your prays with gratitude, and just love for goodness sake.

Lead image from Getty Images

Sean Fletcher, author of Finding Zen in Zion and ghost-writer to Mother Had a Secret, uses his writing to change the world one reader at a time. His greatest desire is to help people recognize and accept their own journey in life. His quick wit and laughable humor combined with his love of learning and deep wisdom helps learners from all walks of life understand precious truths that may otherwise go unnoticed. He presents difficult ideas in ways that even the beginner can easily understand and apply. Sean is the father of five spunky kids who are often the subject of his learning. He resides in Utah with his wife and five children.

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